The U.S. military experts in Iraq, such as they are, have found a new way to insure more trouble down the road. The latest initiative in Iraq will arm and empower the very elements of Iraqi society that were the chief targets of the original invasion. It's hardly surprising -- what, after all, could be surprising at this stage of the unfolding catastrophe? -- but the plan is shocking nevertheless: one would be hard-pressed to conjure up a more naked portrayal of desperation. A military machine that began this adventure with a near-perfect, two-week sweep across Iraq, cheered on by a president who declared "Mission Accomplished" more than four years ago, is now dangling slowly in the wind, with blow-back looming on the horizon.
Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, you may recall, needed to be swept away, and that part of the mission was accomplished. Then it was on to the fruits of our labor: democracy would quickly ensue and, just as quickly, U.S. troops would depart from the battlefield. Iraq's democracy would then light freedom's fire throughout the Middle East, and the region -- the world! -- would be, well, reborn.
There was more justification: al-Qaida had to be denied a toe-hold in Iraq. Having already conspired with Saddam to produce 9/11, as you doubtless recall, Iraq could not, at all costs, become a training ground for al-Qaida forces intent on perfecting their fiendish skills.
That was then. Now, al-Qaida -- still capitalizing on the fiction of Iraqi complicity in 9/11 -- has forced the Americans into an alliance with its enemies of yesterday. And our allies of yesterday -- the Shiites who sought deliverance from the Sunnis who had oppressed them for so long -- now gape at the latest iteration of that dictum embraced in the Middle East: the friend of my enemy is my enemy.
Who knows this better than Moktada al Sadr? What must Prime Minister al Maliki be thinking? What about the Sunni sheiks in al Anbar province who, fed up with al-Qaida's treachery, are cooperating, for now, with the Americans and who thus become the momentary beneficiaries of the new plan? That's today. What about tomorrow? And what about the American soldier who, even before this latest development, could not distinguish between friend and enemy? Who could?
And then what about that other dynamic, the one having nothing to do with Sunni or Shia or al-Qaida? Surely you must recall our very closest friends in Iraq, the Kurds. And surely you must remember our closest friends in the region, the Turks. Surely you must have noticed our two closest friends spiraling toward their own calamity. Whose friend will the U.S. be if -- or should I say when? -- that collision is upon us?
It brings to mind another famous dictum: with friends like us, who needs enemies?